The moment was perfect. It had Instagram and Facebook written all over it.
Luke Smallbone—one of the two frontmen of the Christian band For King & Country—was renting a tiny beach house with his wife Courtney and their two kids, ages 4 and 2. A pink sky lured them out to the sand.
“We would go down to sunset and have this moment,” Smallbone said. “I found myself taking out my phone to capture it. But then I put it away. I told myself this moment is just for me. Just for my family.”
Living in the moment isn’t something that Smallbone has always been good at. He’ll be the first to admit it’s a daily struggle. But as a millennial, it’s something he sees rampant in the world around him. And he’s trying to change that—even if it’s one less social post at a time.
“You’re trying to upload that picture to a gazillion social media sites, and meanwhile you missed your son building a sand castle that’s the real masterpiece moment,” said the younger brother of singer Rebecca St. James. “It’s not easy. But there is such a thing as the wrong type of applause.”
Luke, along with his brother Joel, will likely be getting a round or two of applause on Saturday night at the Greater Vancouver Festival of Hope where For King & Country will support Franklin Graham as he proclaims a powerful Gospel message.
It’s a city Luke’s familiar with—“clean and friendly”—but it’ll be an experience that’s brand new: “I’ve never been part of a Crusade before,” he said. “We’re really excited to be a part of this event and see how God moves.”
‘Why Am I So Sick?’
Just like that family moment on the beach, Smallbone has wrestled with how our culture defines worth and significance. In fact, he thought he was giving his all to Christ when everything came crashing down about four years ago—he was diagnosed with a digestive disorder called Ulcerative Colitis on October 31, 2012, and had to come off the road.
In a matter of weeks, the 6-foot-4 Smallbone went from 185 pounds to 125 pounds. He was so frail, he couldn’t hold his newborn baby.
“I had this one particular night, where I’m at the lowest point in my life,” he said. “I felt like an injustice had occurred. I had to be clinically depressed. I thought, ‘I’m writing all these songs that are God-inspired and God-ordained. I’m doing everything you’ve asked me to. God, why am I so sick? Why?’”
This was the moment where real change happened. Smallbone felt the still, small voice of God telling him: “I don’t need your talent. I don’t need you to achieve anything. I just want your heart. I just want you.”
“At that moment, I felt a wave of peace flow over me.”
‘That Alters the Rest of Your Life’
The struggle that nearly killed Smallbone has not just made him stronger. It’s transformed his outlook on life.
“I consider it a gift that I was able to learn all that at a decently young age (26),” he said.
That “gift” of illness and being still enough for God to speak into his life, that his value is not performance-based, has changed his life forever.
“The fact that I’m dearly loved for who I am,” he said. “That just alters the rest of your life. Not just for a season. That alters the way you love your wife, the way you care for your kids.”
The Smallbones, who are expecting their third son in July, are trying to be very intentional now about everything they do. How they spend their time. How they train up their children. “I’ve often asked myself, ‘How do you keep your kids on the straight and narrow?’” he said.
“What’s the common thread of these kids that are turning out to be Christ-followers?”
Well, he surmised quickly, there’s no magic formula. But he may be onto something.
“If you can show evidence for Jesus in your life and your kids see that,” he said, pausing for a moment. “There’s a much better chance for them to choose that for their own life.”
‘God Says They’re Priceless’
Over the past several years, Luke has talked a lot about the concept of how a person’s life is invaluable, but how culture tries to define life—particularly for women—into something that’s just the opposite: “The way they should act and dress and talk, like they’re cheap. But God says they’re priceless.”
The band continued to drill down the message, talking to men about how women should be treated. How chivalry—regardless of societal norms—should not be dead.
They started selling chain necklaces with a one-cent Australian coin on them, as a reminder that you can’t put a value on a woman’s worth, and sold hundreds of thousands of these.
“I thought maybe we’d just talk about it for a few years,” he said. “But this is really connecting.”
Luke and Joel collaborated with their brother Ben to produce the movie Priceless, a film about the value of women, taking a stand for sex trafficking, that released in October—and is now on DVD.
“I think you don’t understand the fullness of God and you have a harder time loving other people when you don’t respect who you are,” Smallbone said. “I found value when I figured out that I really am loved and God has a purpose for me here on earth.”
Watch Live: For King & Country will play this Saturday at the Greater Vancouver Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham at Rogers Arena. Tickets are free. Watch or share the Festival, beginning at 7 p.m. PST/10 p.m EST at BillyGraham.org/Live.